R.I.P., J.R.

John Rezelman died in Bath, New York on February 10, 2012. You may not have known John or ever heard of him, but if you can think of an elderly gentleman friendly to the small-scale farmer and the artist, one who writes poetry and prose about local history and
agriculture, one who is witty, smart, supportive, and humorous, who is both a family man and a sensitive crusader for environmental health, you might get a glimpse of this friend to the upstate New York community of outdoor enthusiasts. Having learned of John’s passing, I uncap a bottle of Phin & Matt’s Southern Tier brew and look out the window at a long-awaited New York snowfall.

Back in 1986, Michael Czarnecki and I published a small anthology of poetry and prose entitled Susquehannock, A Literary Anthology of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed. We included a John Rezelman poem in that anthology called “Seneca Flour Corn.” I’d like to reprint the piece here, a poem suggesting that if you want to make a difference in your world, perhaps all you need to do is learn about your place of life, consider its histories, get involved with it, and plant a seed.

Please enjoy.

Seneca Flour Corn

The smoke hung thick in the valleys that year/ When Sullivan’s army burned the Indians’ corn./ Neverless, a little bit survived/ In some damp hollow or some hidden patch./ For without man’s help this maize cannot survive./ It needs man to strip the kernels from the cob,/ Plant them so each will have its space to grow,/ Protect from weeds, animals, insects, birds,/ Harvest it, store it, keeping it always dry/ And never, ever eating up all the seed./ Left all to itself, the corn would surely die.

Forty kernels a friend gave to me/ Of that very self-same kind the Senecas grew/ The sort that they most valued for their meal./ It prospered for me, increasing many fold./ I hold an ear of it in my hand–/ Broad white kernels on a slender cob,/ A thing of beauty as well as living food.

General Sullivan, that grain is living still/ And I have helped it to outlast us both.

John Rezelman

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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13 Responses to R.I.P., J.R.

  1. Alan says:

    A wonderful poen. Another chapter closed.

  2. Walt,

    John was a true treasure of a human being. I recall many times sitting at his house, having conversations about local history, local agriculture, poetry. He and jean also introduced me to Poet’s Theater, back in 1985. From there – meeting you, Susquehannock and the beginnings of this path I continue to travel these many years later.

    Some of John’s writing for the Crooked Lake Review can be read at:

    He was a great teacher and friend. His words go on.

  3. Dale Houseknecht says:

    a great Poem Walt!

  4. stflyfisher says:

    Very nice post Walt. What a fine tribute to a great man. These days we only hear of the superstars in life – the politicians, corporate bigwigs, sports heroes – rarely is the little guy mentioned. Thanks for recognizing a real human being!

  5. Dr. G says:

    Sorry to hear of your loss of a friend and colleague, Gator. Great job of honoring his memory. I still have that 1986 anthology and have enjoyed it a number of times over the years.

    • Doc, Thank you. JR was a cornerstone to the region’s house of poetry and common sense, and I’m pleased you still have that anthology. It’s always great to hear from you. Am looking forward to reading from your new chapter of life experiences!


  6. Steve Lewandowski says:

    John was a great man in precisely the correct terms- he was loved, liked, admired and accomplished in many fields. Gary Snyder writes some thing like, “in seeking the design for an axe handle, the model is always near at hand,” and I don’t know any better example than John.

  7. Steve, John was a model man.

  8. Marian Rezelman says:

    Walt, Thanks again for this lovely tribute. Tomorrow marks a year, and today I re-read your entry. I love knowing that Dad touched so many lives! I think it always surprized him a bit, but pleased him very much, when someone let him know that he — or his work — had touched them in some way, or tickled them, or inspired them . . .

  9. Marian,
    It’s always a pleasure to recall your father’s life and works, and today I also make that special pause. Thanks again for stopping by.

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